From Vines to Wine—a research journey to Tuscany, Italy, Switzerland, and California: Guest blog by Christa Polkinhorn

I love a glass of good wine with my meals and I love Tuscany, which is one of the reasons I situated my novel, The Italian Sister, in one of my favorite areas of Italy. Since I knew almost nothing about grape growing and winemaking, I had to do quite a bit of research. I read books, navigated the internet, but the best parts of the research were my trips to Tuscany, to Switzerland, and also to one of the wine regions in California, Paso Robles. I walked through vineyards, took photos, and most of all, I talked to many people involved in growing grapes and making wine. It was an eye-opening adventure. I was amazed to find out just how much work, science, and art goes into the process of transforming vines into wine! All the people I met were extremely helpful and generous with their time and made this part of my research a truly memorable experience. My friends and family patiently followed me around vineyards, introduced me to vintners, and shared their knowledge with me. And, of course, I got to taste some excellent wine.

One of the first exposures to winemaking during a vacation in Tuscany together with friends and family was in Querceto, a Tuscan hill town about half an hour inland from the Mediterranean coast. Querceto is a small hidden pearl of a place. The only tourists here seem to be those who have heard about the excellent wine that’s being produced in the local wine press house.

Figure 1

We found a castle, a church, one restaurant with lodgings, the winery, and plenty of friendly, helpful people.

Here is where it all happens, the magical transformation of grapes into wine. In these huge fermentation steel tanks, the grapes simmer and sizzle until just the right time. After pressing and fermenting the grapes, the juice is transferred into barrels where it ages and is eventually put into bottles for us to enjoy.

Figure 2Figure 3Sounds magical? In reality, it is hard, backbreaking, and often dirty, sticky work. And the risk of a bad harvest when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate has ruined many small vineyards and winemaking outfits. You really have to love this process to continue. I haven’t met a vintner or winemaker who wasn’t passionate about his work.

And here are some of my loyal friends who patiently took me around to vineyards and wineries. Cheers! By the way, that young boy on the right is NOT drinking wine, just smelling it!

Figure 4If you want to know more about this charming hill town and its vineyards, here is a link:

Marchesi Ginori Lisci

The Tuscan villa near Cecina we stayed in as well as the many Tuscan houses made its appearance in my novel as well.

Figure 5Figure 6On one of the days, my nephew and I took a trip to Volterra, the hill town that served as inspiration to my imaginary town of Vignaverde in the novel. The drive through the gorgeous Tuscan landscape made me aware again, why I chose this to be the locale for my work. No matter what time of the year or day, Tuscany always shows its mysterious and charming face.

Figure 7Figure8Figure 9And here we are in Volterra. The walls surrounding the town are a mixture of Etruscan (about 700 BC) and medieval architecture. Situated on top of a hill and protected by thick walls, the towns were in a perfect position to fight off roving aggressors during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Inside the city, the narrow cobblestone streets are lined with a multitude of shops, coffee shops, small restaurants, and art and crafts galleries. Volterra has fewer tourists than the more famous hill towns such as Siena. The majority of the people are locals and the town has a vibrant life of its own.

Figure 10Figure 11Figure 12

In Switzerland, I visited a vineyard as well. My friend Silvia De Lorenzi did an apprenticeship as a young girl on a vineyard and introduced the family of vintners to me. Now in their third generation, members of the Obrist family were generous enough to take time out of their busy day during the grape harvest to show me around the vineyards and the wine press house. Another good friend accompanied me on this outing to a beautiful part of Switzerland, called Bündner Herrschaft.

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As you can see, winemaking is heavy-duty physical work as well as an art and science.

Back in California, I didn’t have to look very far to find excellent wine areas. One of my favorite places is Paso Robles in the Central Coast area of Southern Calfornia. Here I discovered the vineyards and winery of the Caporone family, one old Italian immigrant family of vintners and winemakers. It is a small outfit, run solely by a father-son team. Marc, the son, spent hours showing me around and answering my many questions. And he introduced me to my favorite Italian wines: Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Aglianico among others.

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If you want to know more about The Italian Sister, here is the blurb and links to the book and my website.

The+Italian+Sister+Cover

Standing at her father’s grave in California, Sofia Laverne mourns his untimely death. Henry had not only been a loving parent but Sofia’s best friend and mentor. Imagine her shock and grief when she finds out her father had lived a double-life, that she has a ten-year younger sister and inherited a vineyard in Tuscany. Torn between anger about his betrayal, grief for her loss, and hopeful anticipation, Sofia packs her bags and takes off for Italy to meet fourteen-year old Julietta. Arriving in the small hill town of Vignaverde, she is greeted by olive groves, neat rows of grape vines, and picturesque houses. Some of the inhabitants of this beautiful estate are, unfortunately, less welcoming and resent her intrusion into the family business. Soon, strange occurrences begin to frighten Sofia. When a suspicious accident lands her in the hospital, Sofia fears for her life.

Cheers! You can find me on the following websites. I love to keep in touch with my readers!

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Comments

From Vines to Wine—a research journey to Tuscany, Italy, Switzerland, and California: Guest blog by Christa Polkinhorn — 2 Comments

  1. Having lived in France, and having visited Italy on two-or-three occasions, I can understand and feel Christa Polkinhorn’s love of Italy, and above all, Tuscany.
    Italy produces more wine than France, but I an not sufficiently educated in wine to make make a comment on which country makes the best wine, if that is at all important. Good wine, is good wine,pure and simple. I look forward to reading her book, and what seems to be a touch of Machiavellian mystery.

    • Hi Charles. I fully agree with you, good wine is good wine. And tastes are different. And the same wine doesn’t always taste the same. Depends on your mood, palate and so on. But the process is fascinating. I hope you enjoy the book. Happy Reading. Christa

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